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Archive for the ‘Restaurants’ Category

the legend

the legend

Let me tell you about a place that I love with all of my heart – a place that makes my eyes water from nostalgic emotions and the spiciest mustard on the planet.  I love this place because it serves delicious food – I love it because it is historic and has a story and an identity – I love it because it is located in my sunny home state of California.  These are all things that speak the love language of my heart, but I love it mostly because it reminds me of my family.  This place is part of our story – part of our history and tradition.

So, this humble post is dedicated to Philippe’s, home of the Original French Dip, and to my Mom for Mother’s Day (and also to my Aunt Valerie who is a mother and to Cecil who is their mother and really to Wayne too, who isn’t a mother but definitely deserves a special nod)…

Philippe’s was founded in 1908 by Philippe Mathieu.  After accidentally dropping a baguette into some beef pan drippings, the “Original French Dip” was born.  Praise the Lord for that.  There’s some controversy on the actual circumstances surrounding the fateful dropping of the bread and who actually subsequently requested the accidental sandwich, but who cares?  The most important thing is that we ended up with juicy, flavorful, meaty, sandwichy goodness. 

While Philippe’s was sold in 1927, it has been owned and operated by the same family since.  Not a lot else has changed

these prices are history

these prices are history

since then, either.  For instance, the floor is still covered in sawdust.  The coffee is still ten cents, the lemonade seventy cents.  The mustard is still so spicy that it will literally make you cry.  Ladies, called “carvers,” still take your order behind the counter and serve you almost immediately.  They wear the same uniforms.  Pickled beets, eggs and pigs feet are still offered, purple and ostentatious.  Potato salad, macaroni salad, tapioca pudding, fruit pies, pecan pies, cream pies – all of these remain on the menu.  Beef, lamb or pork sandwiches can be dipped or double dipped.  The lines continue to extend to the back of the room.  The only thing that seems to change are the articles and reviews of Philippe’s that are posted on the walls.  In accordance with the spirit of the place, history and stories surround you. 

You will make new friends in the line at Philippe’s.  Everyone is exited to tell their neighbor about how Philippe’s is their place.  They’re excited to share their personal story and offer a recommendation of what to order.  I used to think that our Philippe’s story was unique; that we’re the only ones that consider it sacred, sawdust-covered ground.  But I’ve discovered that almost everyone in the line has been there many times before.  Most likely,

hungry people

hungry people

they started coming with their parents or grandparents, just like me.  It’s a good thing that you will make friends in line, as you may be sitting next to these same folks at the communal tables that all diners eat at.  Sharing stories, tables and tasty, tasty food is a beautiful thing. 

In turbulent times, it’s nice to go to a place that seems significant and unchanged.  Philippe’s is a beacon – a reminder that good things can last through World War II and the Depression and whatever economic crisis we find ourselves in.  I know I’m giving a lot of existential meaning to a French Dip sandwich shop here, but the place has significance!  My grandpa, Wayne went there for years and years, then he took my grandma, Cecil, and they took my mom, Paula and her sister, Valerie.  Then they all took me, and later my cousin Gabriel.  Going to Philippe’s was a family outing; birthdays, Mother’s Days, Father’s Days.  When my Grandpa Wayne passed away, we went to Philippe’s in his honor.  When my Grandma Cecil passed away, off to Philippe’s to eat her favorite, a lamb sandwich.  Since then, I’ve insisted on sharing spicy mustard and pickled beets with Jon, my husband and Jason, one of my dearest friends.  Now they’re part of the story.  When I go, I get more than my regular double

the spread

the spread

dipped beef – I get to feel a connection to people that I love – people that I can’t necessarily hug or kiss or speak to anymore.  Instead, I do what I do best; EAT (with a lot of reminiscence on the side).  I can picture my young and dapper Grandpa ordering his favorite sandwich from his favorite Carver.  He would know her by name.  He would know her story and she would remember his regular order.  Again, I can blame the tears on the mustard.

Normally I love to get really passionate and intense about food and flavor, and there is definitely some delicious noshing to be had at Philippe’s, but here I would encourage you to head to there for other reasons.  I’m convinced that once you step through the door you will feel the connection with everyone else who has been going there for years.  You will definitely come back for the sandwiches, but you will also return to this historic place because it will be part of your story.  You can make it a tradition.  Let’s share a table. 

Philippe’s – The Original
1001 North Alameda Street
Los Angeles, CA  90012

Let it be known that Philippe’s is actually pronounced like “Fil-eeeps” – we, however incorrectly, call it “Fil-ip-eees.”  Way better.   

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One of my plans for 2009 is to be more adventurous with my choices of meat.  I will try almost anything; any flavor, any spice, any sort of preparation of food.  But step outside of the conventional with cut and type of meat, and I become boring and rigid.   A few of my issues:  cute animals (how can you eat bunny?), meat that resembles its living form.  This is unusual, as I am typically the person harassing someone else to try something new; expand the pallete!  experience something new!  relish something different! 

I’m aware that it may seem bizarre for someone to include expansive meat selection in their New Year’s plans, but there are so many fabulous recipes and dishes that incorporate something I am not comfortable eating.  Hence, my little meat resolution.  My initial thoughts were to just start with a rustic braised rabbit, but it made sense that one of my FAVORITE restaurants led to my adventure beginning with goat, better known as cabrito.

Pura Vida is one of the most fabulous restaurants in Atlanta, specializing in Latin American tapas.  Chef Hector Santiago is a graduate of the famed Culinary Institute of America and frequently travels to Latin American countries to ensure that his kitchen produces authentic and creative cuisine.  It is a sassy yet cozy little spot, comfortably nestled betweet Soul Vegetarian (owned and operated by some very legit African vegetarians) and San Francisco Coffee (purveyors of the finest breve latte known to mankind).  This little corner of the Virginia Highlands neighborhood houses some of the most unique and unreplicated food in the city. 

The dishes at Pura Vida are absolutely phenomenal; expertly prepared, inventive but deliciously approachable.  Succulent little morsels of juicy steak slathered in chimichurri, truffled mushrooms with crema or hongos sizzling in chipotle butter, perfectly fried yuca with a spicy honey dip, heart of palm stacked with sweet dates and salty serrano ham, fresh and lively tuna ceviche, and most recently, tender goat stewed in a coconut broth with green banana mash and caramelized, smoked trout belly with a lemon verbena sauce.  The latter two dishes constituted my step off of the proverbial ledge, out of the “safe” meat zone…  The goat and the trout (with tiny little fin attached – agh!) may be standard fare for many, but for me this was an experience in gastronomic growth.

Both dishes were so, SO good.  The little fin on my trout became less of an issue with flavors this seductive, the thought of baby goat fading with each rich and tender bite.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that this tasty little goat was not gamey or tough at all, but delightfully flavorful and very akin to a well cooked brisket.  The trout was all at once tender, smokey, sweet, salty, tangy – perhaps one of the most brilliant little tapas that I have ever had. 

Our meal was completed with three of the house made ice creams, which change frequently.  I dream of this ice cream.  I tell everyone about this ice cream.  I have spent hours trying to ascertain the secret to this ice cream.  The ice cream at Pura Vida is the most heavenly and wonderful mystery, light and creamy and amazing.  Stone fruit with candied kumquats or coconut with cocoa nibs, vanilla bean with housemade cornflakes and chocolate chipotle with a creamy drizzle, OR the red wine ice cream, which I hear is the BEST but remains elusive at every visit.  Our lovely server informed us that the secret of this frozen delicacy is that it isn’t actually ice cream, but frozen espuma.  Forget ice cream.  Give me espuma.  And while we’re at it, I’ll have another order of the cabrito please.

 http://www.puravidatapas.com/ 

one of my favorite spots - please go immediately

one of my favorite spots - please go immediately

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